Blue Origin has successfully tested its crew escape system for its New Shepard rocket in a dramatic test.
The unmanned rocket, on its fifth flight, lifted off from the company’s West Texas launch site around 11.34am EDT (4.34pm BST) today. The test was designed to see how a future crew would be carried to safety in an emergency, and it passed with flying colors.
About 45 seconds after the launch, the crew capsule ignited its escape motor, launching itself away from the rocket. It descended under drogue chutes, before larger parachutes brought it safely to the ground, with a thruster activating at the final second for a soft landing.
"All astronauts on board would have had a pretty exhilarating ride, but a safe ride," launch commentator Ariane Cornell said during a live stream.
Above, a replay of the flight
As for the booster, it had not been expected to survive this launch. But, surprisingly, it not only survived, it also reached space and returned safely to Earth, re-igniting its engine to touch down on a landing pad.
The booster will now be retired and put in a museum, being the first reusable rocket to ever travel to space and return to Earth.
The test as a whole, though, shows that New Shepard is safe for humans. Now, Blue Origin will begin the steps to begin taking paying customers on short hops into space, where they will experience 4 minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth before returning to the ground.
It’s not yet known when these flights will begin, or how much they will cost. But this latest test is a massive step in the direction of making them, and space tourism itself, a reality.
Check out some pictures of the launch, escape test, and landing below. All images courtesy of Blue Origin.
The crew escape engine kicked in around 45 seconds after launch
The capsule safely landed about 4 minutes and 15 seconds after lift-off
The booster then followed suit, touching down more than 7 minutes and 20 seconds after the launch
The booster will now be retired and put in a museum